in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

trust God in everything

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

If there’s anything we humans need to learn first and foremost, it’s our need to trust in God. The problem in our thinking can be that we suppose we’re not to trust in God about everything. That some things for one reason or another depend entirely on us. Just one problem with that is we can end up not trusting God in anything.

When we think anything depends on us, then we’re pushing God out of the equation. Actually all depends on God, but for us to receive God’s superintending work, it does depend on us to simply have faith. To look to God, to seek to trust him in everything. We need to start there if we’re to go on to what God has for us, yes in everything, in all our ways. Then we can experience God’s work in making our paths straight as we continue to trust God. In and through Jesus.

 

trusting God moment by moment

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

It is one of the hardest yet most important things we can do, to seek to live in the moment in dependence on and rest in God. There are so many factors which make this challenging. We can be weighed down by past failure, present circumstances, and seemingly dim future prospects. Of course if we’re just looking at the troubles apart from faith, then we’re sure to be overcome with fear or whatever we do to deal with such situations ourselves. But when we turn to God with the determination to trust and obey in the moment by God’s grace just as the psalmist does, we’ll find God’s help. And hopefully we’ll become more and more steady, as we learn to find our rest in him. In and through Jesus.

at peace in God’s will

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

If there’s one thing this pandemic has pressed home, it’s the uncertainty of human plans, even of life itself. All is subject to the Lord’s will. And we’ll do much better if we work at learning to rest in that. In and through Jesus.

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

what is “the lie”?

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-5

Yesterday we talked about the truth. Today, we think a bit about the reverse of that, the lie. The lie began way back when in the Garden of Eden. And it will reach its ultimate expression in the end in the rise of “the man of lawlessness,” who will essentially be a law to himself.

We know that Jesus said he is the truth and the way and the life (John 14:6).  Jesus ends up being God’s final word (John 1; Hebrews 1) in whom we’re to believe. So naturally there would be a counterfeit to come, since the human heart no longer finds itself at home with God, but alienated from him just as Adam and Eve, when they were ashamed and hid themselves from God.

Eve listened to the serpent, was seduced, and Adam followed, and we’ve been on that trail ever since. But fortunately for us, just as God reached out to Adam and Eve, so he reaches out to us in the promise of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That God took it on himself to come and make his home with us, so that we might at last be at home with him. And that he did not only by fully entering our sphere, even becoming one of us in the Son. But also undid what the serpent had done, yes dying for us so that we might be restored to the life in God and in creation we were meant for in the first place.

Now it is a struggle for us here. It is so easy even for us who are “in Christ” by faith to doubt God’s word, and in so doing, just as Eve did, doubt God’s goodness. Even in her unfallen state she was susceptible to doubt. One might well ask why God had one forbidden tree amidst all the other trees they could fully enjoy. The story for me is highly symbolic, and amounts to her thinking that somehow she could receive and even retain goodness, becoming good apart from trusting God. And even shockingly enough, that somehow God was withholding what was good. Click the Genesis passage above for the full story.

The truth is in Christ himself. And since we’re so far removed from that, it will be a struggle for us until Christ returns, and we see him as he is, and become like him in each of our God-given unique ways. Just as it was for Adam and Eve after they were driven from Paradise.

Our intention needs to be to learn to trust in God, which means trusting God’s word, even and maybe especially when it doesn’t make sense to us. Learning to trust in God’s goodness instead of our own fallen inclinations which always reject God’s word. That God is indeed good, and in that goodness will do what is good, even in the midst of the evil, or whatever trouble we’re facing. In and through Jesus.

dealing with the unexpected

Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:25-26

We have gradually for the most part been able to take in what is occurring worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic. It is unsettling for sure, and potentially life-changing. I am volunteering at my work place, Our Daily Bread Ministries which Michigan has allowed to remain open as an essential service. Most are staying at home, many being able to work from home. My work is factory, so we either work there, or not at all. The ministry is generously paying those who are staying home. Considering family, friends, and society at large and around the world, it is a sobering time indeed.

Strangely enough yesterday, after getting home from work, occasion took me behind the garage where I saw a new tree growing in our neighbor’s yard near the fence, between our two garages. I probably was seeing it for the first time, and it looks like a fast grower, already too big for comfort, its branches heading for our garage. And I felt gripped in fear. In the past we had to have a big tree cut down behind our garage, which if I would have taken care of when we first moved there, would have cost nothing. And so my relative peace and calm in spite of the trying circumstances of our time was replaced with an ongoing, gripping fear.

We read in the passage in Proverbs quoted above that we’re not to be fearful of sudden disaster. That seems like a mighty tall order, given all that can happen and sometimes does in this life. And I really don’t appreciate the disruption of the relative peace I had in the midst of the storm raging around us. I must admit that for me owning a home often seems much more like a home owning me, no doubt.

But we have to keep coming back to God’s word, to prayer, and simply waiting on God in his grace to answer us. God is for us as seen in the sending of his Son (Romans 8:31-32). I think it is important to see the immediate context of this passage:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:21-26

We can’t just pull a “precious promise” out of the air, or a hat, or even the Bible which is the point here, and expect God to answer. We must consider the context of the whole, really the entire Bible, but first of all the immediate context of Scripture.

All of that said, I personally am tired of falling into the gripping fear which all too often has characterized my life over the years, although it is less than it once was. If I’m not experiencing that, it’s almost like I’m trying to fend it off. Worry has all too often hounded me. It’s almost as if I’m worried about becoming worried, anxious about being overcome and stricken with anxiety. And now it has overtaken me again.

I love how the passage quoted just above prioritizes wisdom. That seems to be the key to avoiding undue stress, the stress that should not be added on to the normal stress of life. Of course like most everything else, that’s easier said then done.

The promise spelled out is encouraging in both the tranquility God can give, as well as God helping us avoid what is not helpful, and often only exacerbates the problem, or at least causes us to dig ourselves into a deeper hole of fear. Taking matters into our own hands is not the answer. And just as I’ve been told in the past, we shouldn’t act on our fears. That is at least too close to panic, which is never good.

Of course I do want to act responsibly and do what can be done. With the neighbor’s permission, I could cut down the relatively young tree just on the other side of their fence. But if I can’t get the answer I want, then I have to leave it in God’s hands. And try to be entrusting that to God right along, by faith. Which leads me to share one more part of the general context, which has spoken significantly to me in recent years:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

May God help me and all of us to learn more and more to rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

Jesus calming the storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41

There’s no doubt that there are many storms in our lives. Sometimes just the normal stuff that comes and goes, like an unexpected problem that brings some stress. Once in a while, something more serious, be it an illness, loss of job, something else.

Like the disciples, we have Jesus present with us, who can calm any storm. And if it’s not in God’s will to stop what is happening, then at least Jesus can stop the storm in our hearts for sure.

(From what I’ve read, the application might actually be that Jesus is challenging the disciples to speak into the storm themselves, which would have required a faith far beyond what they had. Or it may simply refer to their lack of trust in God in the midst of the storm. I suppose I prefer the latter interpretation. And certainly would not accept a “word of faith” kind of interpretation such as we find in some circles.)

victory in the stress and strain

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

There is no end to stress in this life. And at times it’s heightened, so that we call it “distress.”

Our help always and forever is in God. When we’re in over our heads and can’t see our way forward, that’s when God’s salvation is needed. We are unfit ourselves. Our only qualification and ability is received indeed as a gift in and through Jesus, God’s anointed one. We who are in Christ are part of God’s victory in Christ.

It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we receive this gift. God helps us desire what is really good: God’s will. And answers our prayers to that end. We have to hold on to faith in him through all of that.

Does that mean that all will go perfectly in this life? No. What it does mean is that through the stress and strain of it all, God will give us victory, and enable us to be part of that. Again, not in our own strength and ability. But only in and through Jesus.

 

 

an advanced faith?

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91

Recently I read somewhere someone suggesting that when Jesus said that if one believes, what they have asked for in prayer is granted, that this is true only for those with an advanced faith. Many a person, myself included has asked God for all kinds of things, hopefully that would be good, and have believed God could answer. Admittedly, in my case, I might struggle with unbelief for whatever reason, probably primarily due to not knowing God well enough, and therefore not trusting his word. A weak and wobbly faith. We’re not supposed to remain there, but grow in our faith, learning to trust in God  to help us and see us through, come what may.

To me, this psalm tells us that we’re invincible in God’s will. Satan used a line in this psalm in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And Jesus immediately quoted other Scripture, telling Satan that we should not test the Lord our God. Yes, God will protect us, but only in God’s will, and in his time. Life remains a mystery, so that we’re not going to have an answer for why everything happens. But we can be assured that God will see us through in his will, as we trust in God and continue in his way, in what he has for us. In and through Jesus.